Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why not vote?

My daughter in law and her father when he visited them in Edinburgh earlier this year.
Apparently there was a very low voter turn out in the general election on Saturday. When there is a low turn out that is always bad news for Labour. I get frustrated when people don't vote. I can understand a certain cynicism, because you are not sure who to believe, or if you can believe any of them. Sometimes too there is not much difference between parties so apathy can creep in. But I think we have a moral responsibility to vote. We now have Mixed Member Proportional voting which means every vote has an impact on the numbers in Parliament. Under First Past The Post you sometimes felt it was a waste of time.

Last year we were privileged to meet Mr Ciaglewicz in Poland. He is my son's father-in-law. We saw him shortly after elections in Poland in July/August last year.  During our visit we had a special night with him talking through the use of dictionaries, pictures and charades.  Later in the evening Magda his daughter came home and we had an interpreter. (She was surprised with how well we had done communicating, and some how some of the fun and delight went out of it when she could interpret... it was too easy. ) We caught up on his life, who he was and on his history.  At one stage he told us that he had been annoyed with his children because they were not inclined to vote. He pointed out that under the communists he had been a part of a group working for democracy. He risked arrest and at one stage had to move his family because of his involvement in agitating against the regime. He had risked, worked and struggled to help get a functioning democracy in Poland, and he did not like it being taken lightly.

I began to have a new appreciation for the freedoms we have here in NZ. We may feel very powerless in all the various fluctuations of life, but we can vote. We have an opportunity to express our values and perspectives on polling day. This will always involve a compromise because we will always find some aspects of a political party that we cannot identify with, but we can influence the general direction of our country.  We ought to make use of the opportunity to vote.

We get the government we deserve if we fail to have our say. Such apathy annoys me. Somebody who did not vote better not gripe to me when our assets are sold, or when they feel left behind!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sleepy Sunday afternoon.

When I stopped .. I stopped!
I have had a very busy week. As well as the usual things there have been five extras that have added to the things to do list.

  • I had a funeral to run. A funeral for me takes an extra eight hours of work at least. This one was "different" and probably took a little longer. 
  • I had an extra little Advent Sunday ecumenical candle lighting ceremony to prepare for, print stuff for and run.
  • I had a radio Church service to record.
  • My daughter and husband are away on holiday. They generally type and print up the Church newsletter but this week I had to do this job. On a Sunday morning they prepare some of the service power points, they slot the ones I do into the program, set up all the audio-visual equipment and operate the buttons during the service. Angela also helps with the radio service. I had to do all these tasks this week.
  • Christmas Community Dinner always means extra phone calls and emails to deal to at this time of the year. Each day there were people to contact about this or some phone call to respond to. 
All these meant more actual hours of work. But also for me each one meant extra stress levels. I have been a minister for decades, but I still get strung out about a funeral, a radio service and Sunday services. I lose sleep over these things.  After Church we had lunch up town, then when we came home I went to bed for a rest and in two seconds I was out like a light. I was really like a drunk man. I wanted to get up and do something useful, or go do some exercise, but each time I thought about doing so I just blobbed out again... for about three hours. I must have needed the sleep. ... or was it the lovely Guinness I had with my lunch?
But I CAN do it and do it well!
This week has been stressful, but at the same time I finish the week with the feeling that I am good at my job. I stressed about the very different funeral. An intimate and small one. Somehow it is easier to take a big one from behind a lectern, or at least its more familiar. I realised that a totally different approach was needed for this one. But the good thing is I could do it and do it well. I adapted! It felt OK and I could tell I was being helpful and meaningful for those involved. Yesterday I worked on the things for today. I had read extensively for the service and had been nutting out how to communicate it. As time went on I gathered material together. I planned all the different things I had to do in my mind and how to schedule them. "First I'll do this and put it on a memory stick ... then I'll do that leaflet.. then I'll write up my final draft.. then I'll do the power points.. then.. and then..."  It was about 7a.m. when my wife and I got to the Church this morning. The first service we had to host was at 9:15.  It all went so smoothly. I followed my plan and worked through all I had to do, and was so ready I could go up at 9:05 and chat with people arriving. For the next service also everything fell into place and while leading I could tell people were "with me". I "done good".  The Genesis myth has God working on creation and five times it says; "And God saw that it was good". In the final day it says, "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." Well I look back on this week and even though I have not felt confident, and I stressed out frequently, and sometimes thought and said, "I can't do this!" ... as I look back I can say with pride... "I did it, and I did it well. I made a difference in people's lives! Oh yeah!"
Election blues
We in NZ had our general election yesterday. There were no surprises really. The National Party got back in and did so with an increased margin. I voted Labour so I am a bit blue today. I don't think Labour had the depth of leadership to carry the election. I am sad because I get the feel that with National the rich will get richer and the poor will be left behind. They tend to say that it is the poor's fault that they are poor. Now I am not naive enough to say that the poor never make bad choices. There are poor people I'd love to give a kick in the backside. But I am anguished by a lot of what I see. I see a growing divide between the computer literate and those who never have a chance to be that way. The simplest jobs these days often demand computer literacy. People make a few bad choices and often end up on the scrap heap of life and never catch up. Things like apprenticeships seem a thing of the past or out of the reach of many. In three out of my four chaplaincies people with responsible significant jobs are losing them. There seems to be no job security for so many people. I fear that National, even if it increases our efficiency and does balance the books, will increase these divides. The increased income will be enjoyed by the top relative few.
The other thing about National is that I just don't trust John Key. I think John Key is about John Key. He comes across smooth and smiling. His style has obviously won lots of voters. He has some sort of charisma... but ... the more I see of him the more I get concerned. He is pragmatic and will go with whatever suits at the time. I don't think he is a principled statesman. I just feel deeply uneasy and can't trust him.  The one good thing about the election is that the Greens have "grown up". They doubled their share of the vote. They have well reasoned policies and a breadth of policy now that is much more attractive to "Mr and Mrs Average" kiwi. I wonder if they may even replace the labour party as the main left wing party some time in the future?
Anyway... I know the Labour Party is really in a rebuild mode and expected them to lose... but I am still sad the Tories won again. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Variety is the spice of life.

  On Wednesday evening a 101 year old mother of a guy from one of my chaplaincies had died. I was told that she demanded to be sent off "without a ripple". "Have a small funeral and send me off in the cheapest of boxes." My friend rang yesterday and asked me could I lead such a funeral on Friday (today) at 2:30 p.m. I went to his place at about 5:30 p.m. and was still there at 9 p.m. We had talked about his life and his family's life. He had shown me photo album after photo album. I arrived home and ate my evening meal at around 10 p.m.

During the night, when I ought to have been sleeping, I thought about how I would lead a funeral with just him, me and a friend there. I came to the office early, all dressed up in my suit pants and worked on the funeral for an hour or so. I then visited his workplace (he is actually now retired) and wandered around talking to various people.

I came back to the office and sweated over the eulogy bit. How do I approach that? It all clicked at about 12:30 p.m. and I knew the approach I should take and began writing madly. As I was preparing to leave a woman came to me asking about how we could help the "occupy Octagon" crew and talked about Christmas Day dinner. We conversed, and then I put tie and suit jacket on to rush nervously out to the crematorium.

There was me, my friend, his friend and the funeral director. We stood around the coffin and I led in an intimate, relatively informal but reverent ceremony. I was so pleased because I managed to prompt the son who had not wanted to say anything, to share a story and express his feelings. At the end I spent some time talking with the son's friend who had come. Her mum had died six weeks earlier and she shared the circumstances of her death, her anger and grief. In spite of my nervousness, everything went very well.

I jumped back in the car and went to the firestation for a cup of tea. They got a call and in spite of teasing about the "corporate look" I went with them. A big sign above a store had collapsed in high winds and they had to do something with it to make sure it did not hurt anyone. With the help of their big ladder they lowered to ground level, folded it up and put it away in a store room.

I came back to the Church and now I am in my office changing out of my suit and tie into my jeans getting ready for our Friday night drop-in centre. Tonight I'll eat sandwiches and savaloys and talk with alcoholics, drug addicts, unemployed and people with mental health problems. I will probably play pool, play heaps of table tennis and do dishes, before going home just after 10p.m.

My work is NEVER boring.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Blah.. blah.. blah.. talking, talking talking.

What a mixed up day?
I spent a good deal of today in conversation at the church. We have Space2B open from eleven until three on Wednesdays - that is four hours. I had all sorts of plans to stay clear so that I could do chaplaincy hours, and other urgent work, but one conversation led to another, and to another and I got to feel that was where my responsibility lay. Different people and different groups seemed to be needing my contact.  During this time I took time out to vacuum my office - I had visitors coming and wanted it reasonably tidy. Being a plumber from long ago, I also took time to fix a tap in the men's toilets at the Church which had been leaking for months. It does feel good to do just some normal physical stuff.

As well as some other work responding to emails and stuff related to Christmas dinner, answering phone enquiries and such, I had been wrestling with Advent readings. I find Advent Sunday so difficult.  I believe there are many mythical, cultural and ancient aspects to the traditional readings. This makes it extremely hard to communicate something with integrity in a short time that is meaningful and helpful to modern listeners. I have an Advent Sunday Church Radio Service to record tomorrow afternoon, and even though I have read all sorts of stuff about the set readings, I really don't know where to begin! How do I put this together in time? My daughter usually helps me, but she has gone on holiday.

At three I had an appointment with a couple whose wedding I conduct on Saturday week. We sat and talked wedding plans and made decisions about that.  The groom is in one of my chaplaincy work places and his bride-to-be works in the Hospital Emergency Department where my wife does voluntary work. It was a good hour together.

After they left I thought it was too late to do chaplaincy, the newspaper people get too busy, but I decided to ring a man from the there whose mother was dying. He was not home, but later rang back. She was not expected to last long he reported, he had been called out in the early hours of the morning. We talked for well over half an hour on the phone and again I thought it was good useful conversation.  Shortly after I got home tonight he rang again and told me she had died.  Now I have to fit some kind of funeral and pastoral care for him into my already packed week.

A whole mixture in one day...
Here is just a sample of conversation topics throughout the day...

  • We have unemployed people and people with mental health and sometimes intellectual disability call into Space 2B. I talked with them about their life, their living situations, their hassles and listened as they pontificated about various things. There is a group who are opening up to me a bit more every time we share. I had conversations with the group and with individuals. 
  • A visitor from Australia chatted about NZ and asked questions about Dunedin.
  • There is a group of friends who meet regularly at Wednesday Space2B and we catch up with each other on what we have been doing in the week and discuss news topics and such.
  • One of my friends, a very supportive elder who has had some health problems called in at Space2B. He talked about recent events, hospital tests and then told me they had told him not to drive for four months. He is an active man I often lean on, who is just "there" if you need him. He is quite devastated by this limitation. We talked about this.
  • There is the "Occupy the Octagon" protesters in the Octagon (the centre of town) and the guy we have looking after Space2B had been to talk with them. We conversed about them and their difficulties and message. We discussed whether we as a church could help them in any way. We had no conclusions.
  • I discussed wedding plans with the couple, which led along various topics about such things as family, traditions and practicalities of the wedding.
  • With the man whose mum died I talked his mum's past life, his health concerns, his plans for the future, his feelings, as well as his thoughts for the funeral.
  • I had a brief email exchange about the night shelter.
  • I answered several phone call enquiries about our christmas dinner.
  • A drop-in centre guy called and showed me his latest DVD/ Blue Ray player purchase.
From the superficial to the deep. From joking together to hearing of sadness and loss. From wedding plans to funeral plans. From big issue community and political concerns to individual challenges. All these and today I did not move from the Church building.

I struggle to fit it all in, but it certainly is never boring! Now what on earth am I going to say on the radio? Oh well it will come.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bring back the stocks

It is Tuesday and I am stopping briefly for coffee. I have to let off steam, I have been brewing all day yesterday. While eating my porridge at breakfast I browsed the newspaper. On the front page there's a story of arrogant people filling up a skip belonging to somebody else. These visitors to town were emptying out the flat of their brother who had been killed in a tragic accident early in the week. They hired a skip but other people kept putting rubbish in it (Perhaps local students or landlords also cleaning out flats) and abused them when they asked them not to! This is in my book, robbery. The people had to pay out for another skip. Also on the front page vandals set fire to tents and other property at the Thyme Festival in Alexandra in Central Otago. It happened last year also. Another story covered the bashing of two young English workers in Wanaka by a group of around 12 teenagers. Inside the paper there were other examples of arrogant, ignorant sometimes alcohol induced behaviour. These stories involved drunk driving, vandalism and violence. What do you do to stop such behaviour?

One of the problems is that among the crowd such people mix in this sort of behaviour is positively reinforced. "Ha ha... I got away with using another person's skip. Good fun!" "I lit the tent on fire again... what a blast!"  I have heard it in our drop-in centre and Space2B ... "Ha ... ha... I have a bad habit of hitting policemen... silly bastards." and the group giggles in admiration. Even if such people are caught by the authorities and brought before the courts, that is almost a badge of honour amongst their peers! I see guys and girls come into drop-in centre and boast, "I went to court today! Just got fined!" or "Just got community service... yeah right?" Amongst their peers they are heroes! What is needed is for them to be exposed to a wider group of society who will tell them what dirt bags they are.
Bring back the stocks... well something like them.
In olden days they had stocks. Bad guys were put in stocks in the middle of town and the passing people could throw rotten fruit at them or abuse them and tell them what they think of their actions. I say, "Bring back the stocks!" ... or some modern equivalent of them. These guys need to be told that their actions are not laudable. To be told that just by the court system is not working. Why not make them sit in the middle of town with a written description of their crime in front of them, so that they can see that most people think they are not heroes, but crap?

I know I sound like a right-wing fascist but sometimes amongst some of the people I mix with I despair. So many are on a downward spiral, and maybe some tough love is needed to get them on the right track? I mentioned before a young woman I know who is a drug and alcohol addict who uses and abuses people and the system to survive and steals to feed her lifestyle. She is in hell and heading downhill fast. The courts just piddle around with little bits of sentences. She thinks there is nothing much wrong with her lifestyle. Would it hurt her to be made to sit in town with a description of what she does for all to read? Nothing else seems to work. The judges words fall on deaf ears. The love and care of others is just abused. Perhaps she needs made to go cold turkey and shocked out of the rut she has got herself into?

I am semi-serious about this approach and maybe expressing frustration and just stirring. But something like this could have merit. Some way of communicating unmistakably that this behaviour is NOT OK needs to be invented.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thank God its Sunday night

I get a bit stressed in my ministry work. It is OK, it really is part of who I am. I go off to sleep at nights only to wake an hour or so later and in my head I begin to "work"... stew; think of all I have to fit in; remember things I haven't done and should have done; think of all that could go wrong in the day ahead; ... so I lose sleep. This does not help my frame of mind. I generally cope, however, and few people know the lack of confidence, the stress and the mixed feelings going on inside. I had one of those grossly disturbed nights on Wednesday night. I had a full day on Thursday and at 10 a.m. I had to fit in "supervision" with my counsellor type lady. Well I tried to get heaps done in the office before I went, and ran most of the distance from my office to hers. I got lost in the building looking for her office. A man came out of his work room and took one look at me and said, "You will be needing 'Psychological services' that's their door there!" How did he know that?  When I got in her room I plonked down and was totally uninhibited, blurting out all my frustrations and annoyances. When I stopped to draw a breath, she said, "Well that's a lot off your chest all in one go?" During the next three quarters of an hour she challenged me. I had talked about retirement. She said, "You won't make retirement the way you're going. I don't want to visit you in hospital!" She told me that with the way I see my work, and the church "you are very alone." (though she likes the way I see things)  "Where do you get your strength from?" she asked. I thought I knew, but I don't think she understood or I think she felt it was inadequate. She told me to sort out where I was "flogging dead horses" and to stop doing it. "Pat them on the bum and leave them!" Anyway time was up and I went walking on my way to my most awkward chaplaincy. I do feel sorry for her trying to sort me out. Where am I flogging dead horses? I do not think things are as clear cut as she thinks. All my dead horses occasionally draw a breath.
Talking and doing
There have been meetings around here about poverty and about bridging the gap between rich and poor. Some of them I did not know about until it was too late and the others I have been too busy to attend. I know that there are two ways of working to help the needs of the poor. One is to share resources with them and help them in their situation. (e.g. Night Shelter, Habitat for Humanity and our Drop-in centre) The other is to work at changing the structures that make them poor in the first place and that makes sense. I think the people holding the meetings would feel that this is what they are doing. That is legitimate. I wished I had time to go, but I was too busy doing stuff for our Christmas dinner, the night shelter and such. I do get the feel still that a lot of people think they have done something for the poor when they have just talked about them!  Having said that, I could do with thinking more about the structures. Don't know where to start on that? I guess a good start would be with my vote in the election next Saturday.
Small things
I walked up "my" mountain last night. I always enjoy the walk. The scenes on the way and from the top are expansive. But as I neared the top I saw something beautiful. Up against a rock I saw this line up of small dainty blue flowers. How do they survive in the winds up there? I took a photo. This made me look at lots of small things. Mosses and fungi on rocks making colourful patterns. Lichen on trees. Little plants surviving beside the path. I realised that, as well as the expansive views there were these small patches of beauty to appreciate.  We often miss beautiful things and people in life, especially if they are "small".

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Having a blue Christmas? Christmas Dinner Dunedin

Tomorrow a whole lot of advertisements will go out to various agencies informing them of our Christmas Day dinner.

The poster goes like this:

Having a blue Christmas?

If you are alone on Christmas day or need a Christmas day dinner
why not join us?
A group of us will be celebrating Christmas Dinner at the Church
you are welcome to be with us.

Where?: Church of Christ Community corner of St Andrew and Filleul Streets, Dunedin
When? : Christmas day beginning at 11:30 a.m. - around 1:45 p.m.
What?: Hot Christmas meal with Pavlova and plum pudding for dessert.
Christmas cake to finish off. 
Music and people to meet and enjoy.
How do I get there?: Transport is offered if you cannot get there.
Cost?: Free!

We ask that you book in by phoning the Church on (03) 4774848

This is our 23rd Christmas Day dinner. If you are in Dunedin and want to join us feel free to give us a call. If you know of people who could do with a special day then point them in our direction. The great thing is that already people's generosity has started and we will do it all again, and have fun doing it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Can anyone tell me- Where the hell does someone in pain for months slowly dying of cancer fit into God's good creation? Life can really be a bugger sometimes.

I actually don't think there is an answer to the question, but having just come off the phone to my sister the question is screaming inside me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Doing good

I read a page in the local paper about the famous basketball player Magic Johnson. Magic Johnson retired from basket ball when he contracted the HIV virus. Twenty years later he continues to live well, has done heaps for HIV sufferers and has been an inspiration to many. He said this recently....

"I have to tell you, I'm proudest of my life off the court. There will always be great basketball players who bounce that little round ball, but my proudest moments are affecting people's lives, effecting change, being a role model in the community." 

I recall Sir Edmund Hillary, that great Kiwi adventurer said something very similar about his heroic adventures. His efforts on Mt Everest and in the Antarctic were great, but his work among the Nepalese people he saw as an achievement of real value. I think these words are great. They remind us that the greatest thing we can do is make a difference in people's lives. All Black rugby players can learn from such greats who use the fame they have earned for good, and go on to do really good stuff after their career.

I could not help but contrast the above statement with one that was made in my office today. This young man comes to our drop-in activities and had tried to support a young woman who was a drug and alcohol addict. In spite of our warnings otherwise he thought she had changed and wanted to support her.  I think he thought we were being hard nosed and intolerant. Unfortunately he found out otherwise, it all turned to custard. "I feel really crap!" he said, "I thought doing good for others was meant to make you feel good?" I empathised with him and told him I thought his goodness could contribute in the long run. It is true though, sometimes you have to do good in the face of few returns.

I believe doing good is ultimately immensely rewarding. Even though you may feel like you are banging your head against a wall, you know you have tried to do something worthwhile.  Others just go through life paddling in the shallows.  Along the way there are times when you "feel like crap."

I know I have posted the last four days, like I have verbal diarrhea, but I just had to share this while it was fresh in my mind. Forgive me.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thinking on Muslims while gardening.

My day off.
I sit here with a cold beer at hand and delightfully aching shoulders and back. I have had a good day off mostly digging in the garden. I went out to the vegetable garden where I had prepared some ground near a climbing frame. I planted snow peas, the ones you eat pod and all raw. I love them. I put in radish seeds as well, because they are a great encouragement to any gardener - I'll eat them in a few weeks. I was then instructed to fill the hen's hopper with mash. While doing this I noticed that the bolt on the hen house had self destructed. We have a hen house which I constructed out of old walls from a house 23 years ago. It isn't pretty but has housed hens all that time. I set about with carpentry tools to repair the door. We then concentrated on doing some serious work in the vegetable garden. My wife has her patch, which is more fruitful than mine. I have my patches which largely get neglected and any vegetables have to grow among weeds. It was a nice warm day and we worked steadily in our respective patches. We had Max our old dog watching us on one side and our two goats lying in the paddock also checking us out.  Max is very old for his breed and has some health concerns so I suspect he will not be around for much longer.  He seemed to enjoy his day in the vege garden with us. I dug and prepared a big patch of ground, working away in this idyllic setting. A duck and five ducklings wandered in the next door paddock. The birdsong in the surrounding trees was lovely background music. Wood pigeons flew from tree to tree. I saw one and I am sure he was just showing off his flying skills. He would fly upwards fast, stall, slide backwards then break off into a glide like a stunt pilot.  Late in the afternoon the place became more idyllic - for a while. I heard someone singing in the distance and looked on the hill in the farm paddock a distance away. It looked like a teenage boy sitting singing, the sheep munching in the paddock nearby. "How neat" I thought and remembered my son when he was much younger wandering through the long grass of a farmer's paddock singing at the top of his voice. I continued digging and the noise changed. I could not make out the sentences or words except one oft repeated word. It sounds like duck, but starts with an "F". I looked up, he was quite a  distance away, but I think he was talking on his cell phone and yelling, " F.... blah blah F blah blah blah F blah blah blah... F'ing... blah blah blah...F'ed blah blah.. etc." Whoever he was talking to had obviously annoyed him and he was yelling down the phone at them. This word, and no others, kept coming across the paddock at me as clear as a bell. In the end he let out a whole lot of "F's" in a row, put his phone in his pocket and stormed off toward his house. "Oh well" I thought, "Sometimes I have felt like that!" In the quietness and beauty of this scene, it was a funny change.
During the day I had to send some emails and checked for responses regularly. Like a lot of people, I receive emails that are circulating around. Some are jokes which are a good laugh. Some have thoughtful and encouraging messages in them. Others I receive seem to be hate mail against Muslims. There seems to be a movement in America itching for an all out war with them, and some of the emails make me angry. Some are concerned about the increasing Muslim presence. Here is an extract from one such email...
There are now thousands of mosques throughout Europe . With larger congregations than there are in churches.  And in every European city there are plans to build super-mosques that will dwarf every church in the region.  Clearly, the signal is: we rule.

Many European cities are already one-quarter Muslim: just take Amsterdam , Marseille and Malmo in Sweden .  In many cities the majority of the under-18 population is Muslim.  Paris is now surrounded by a ring of Muslim neighborhoods.  Mohammed is the most popular name among boys in many cities.

In some elementary schools in Amsterdam the farm can no longer be mentioned, because that would also mean mentioning the pig, and that would be an insult to Muslims.

Many state schools in Belgium and Denmark only serve halal food to all pupils.  In once-tolerant Amsterdam gays are beaten up almost exclusively by Muslims.  Non-Muslim women routinely hear 'whore, whore'.  Satellite dishes are not pointed to local TV stations, but to stations in the country of origin. 

These emails worry me. We have a world which is under stress for all sorts of reasons. Economically the world is struggling. We face considerable environmental problems. There are tensions all around, and such winding up of tensions feels a little like a pile of dry straw around fireworks. People also point to very angry and warlike statements by various Muslims. How do we respond? What does a Jesus follower do? As I dug my garden my mind was stewing on these things. I have no easy answers, but I firmly believe two things.
We desperately need genuine followers of Jesus.
Where there is a vacuum air rushes in to replace the emptiness. I think that in religious terms where the Churches are weak in true faithful following of Jesus, Muslim faith, or any other faith can fill the void. Where Churches have little real influence in western society, other faiths and lifestyles will fill the void. As I look at Church life these days I often see weak imitations of the real thing. Where Christian faith appears strong it is often a very self serving, "bless me Jesus", "spiritual masturbation" type of religion. It can be very fundamentalist in nature. In the face of the increasing presence and awareness of Islam, such a religion feels threatened, builds walls and sometimes even encourages a military response to resist that which is seen as evil. Often in other churches I see a nominalism and a weak "Churchianity", rather than genuine followers of Jesus. Such a faith goes to Church on Sunday but essentially lives by the same secular, materialistic values as the world around about them. I believe in these times it is important that we do our best to be full-on genuine followers of Jesus, truly open to his ways of love. The Apostle Paul pleads, "Let love be genuine" and encourages the early Christians, even in a situation where they were being persecuted to do their best to live in harmony and so commend the gospel.  Jesus presents a picture of a servant community, where his disciples are in the world as servants. Communities of true disciples of Jesus, display a wholesome, useful, life-enhancing lifestyle which is not a vacuum, but an attractive force for good and for love.  As a minister and workplace chaplain I spend a lot of time among non-christian people. One man at a fire-station said recently, "Since when did Churches bring good news? Its always bad news, judgement and death." Of course he is wrong, but because of the weakness of so much that is called Christianity, there seems to be little evidence to counter his statement. Communities of true loving, active servant disciples will not have to defend themselves, they will be living their truth in such a way that it would be hard to argue against.
In these times we need to believe in the power of love.
We call ourselves "christian" and say we are following Jesus, but often we do not believe in the essential truth he died expressing. Our Churches are filled with crosses. The cross reminds us of the power of evil - a good man was put to death by the religious and political leaders of his day. But the cross is seen as a symbol of triumph. We believe that somehow in the death, the love of God in Jesus had power over evil. Jesus went to the cross believing that the path of love, even though it meant death, is more powerful than evil. We as his disciples struggle to have the same faith. When something like Islam threatens us, sometimes in the name of our religion we see the answer lies in hatred, resistance and military force. We forget the heart of the gospel - love conquers evil. Martin Luther King says, "The only thing that has any power to turn enemies into friends is love." Studdart Kennedy writes, "I believe that evil dies, love lives on, loves on and conquers all". I believe that in these times the followers of Jesus must overcome any evil that is in our communities or a part of expressions of the Muslim faith by out-loving the opposition. Whatever our response to the increasing Muslim presence should be, it must remember, trust and rely upon the power of love.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sunday night stewing.

Stadium concert
The local newspaper, the Otago Daily Times turns 150 years tomorrow. They celebrated by putting on a free community concert at Dunedin's new stadium. You had to put a gold coin donation into a bucket for "can kids" which I think is a kids cancer appeal.- Well 50% of the money went to the kids.  The concept of the community concert was quite good. It was an OK concert. I struggled to hear the words of the songs and even of the announcers from where I was sitting. It was loud enough but somehow distorted. I haven't worked out whether it is me going deaf, the sound system or the presenters. I enjoyed the occasion, the music and the dancers. :-)  I even enjoyed seeing the stadium in action.

The thing that rankled about the concert is that it seemed also to be a celebration of the building of the stadium. At some stages during the concert it seemed like the "old boys network" of the city were saying, "See we won!" The stadium was built in spite of quite a lot of opposition. There were, in my view, some questionable communications and politicking and it has laid a substantial financial burden on the city. ( i.e. Rate payers like me.) I like the stadium, it is a good addition to an area where there are a number of sport facilities. But I was not a fan of the stadium. It seemed to me the city fathers had put a lot of money into the old rugby ground, building all sorts of additions. Then a relatively short time later they decided it was not good enough, and now have poured untold money into this new stadium. I think it is great pity somebody did not do some future planning a long time ago. It would have been a lot cheaper all around. I also question why one sector of the community, i.e. the rugby fraternity, gets so much assistance from public money. (This goes wider than just the stadium) The gloating about the stadium rankled, because I think those opposed had some legitimate concerns, some of which have been vindicated by financial hassles within the council. Now it is a reality, I hope it gets used well.

Fifty years ago when the paper turned 100 I was a paper boy getting up early every morning and delivering the Otago Daily Times. I became a skilled paper boy. I could fold papers better than others, carry more papers than others and deliver faster.  At one stage I was delivering papers in the morning and again with the evening paper. Sometimes during holiday times I would do three runs with the evening paper. I enjoyed my paper runs partly because as a loner in a fairly crowded family I could have time alone doing my own thinking. That year they gave us each a book of cartoons from the cartoonist, a very clever cartoonist, by the name of Sid Scales. I still have my copy.

A photo taken about 20 minutes before the main concert.
The book that they gave me as a paper boy 50 years ago.

"Gee you take on some tricky subjects!"
This is what a man told me about the subject of our service this morning. I told them last week I was going to tell them how to vote. I think some people turned up just to check out what I was going to say. I remained "neutral", I did not push one party above the other. What I did was to raise the sorts of things I believe followers of Jesus need to consider as they cast a vote on election day. In NZ election day is on November 26th. I suspect the National Party that is currently government will be returned. Here is the outline of my sermon.
As a political party works out how it handles the economy, it must include caring for the poor.
I pointed to biblical passages in the Old Testament where the understanding of God is that he had a concern for the poor. Consistently the biblical writers highlight that the nation if it is living God's ways, will not neglect the needs of the poor. The prophets of old in a sense warn "Neglect the poor at your peril!" They talked in terms of the judgement of God, but the language rightly understood is that they are saying the consequences of neglecting the poor is bad for any nation. (We could widen that to include the world economy) Every party thinks that its way of handling the economy is better than the other. We must check to see that they support the needy. The National Party has billboards up saying "Vote National for a brighter future!" or some such wording. The sceptic in me wants to get a paint can and add the question, "For whom?" That's the question I believe we need to ask of any party's economic plans.
There are wider important issues to consider than just the economy.
As the parties campaign you get the feeling that the economy is the only issue at steak. But there are other issues. We need to be asking "What sort of ethos do this party's policies encourage in our country?" Are we accepting of other cultures? How do we value our people who are "different"? We can think of people with mental health or intellectual difficulties. Is our education system just geared toward fitting people to participate in the economic world, or do we try to build more rounded, whole people, able to appreciate wider and deeper aspects of life? Are any particular groups made to be scapegoats for some of the ills of society? Do the policies feed on stereotype ideas of various groups? We need to be asking as we select the party to vote for, "What sort of society do we want New Zealand to be?" 
We need to have leadership in Government who are willing to look after the world we live in.
Our world is struggling to cope with the western life style. We are running out of oil. The oil we get these days is a lot harder to extract and will not last for ever. This predicament will put pressure on the economies, increase tensions between countries and ultimately really impact on the poor and powerless. We are contributing to global warming and ultimate significant and damaging climate change. These are just a couple of indicators that the planet is under stress from our lifestyle. As followers of Jesus we are called to care for this earth that we have been gifted. It is also a justice issue. What sort of earth are we going to leave for future generations? Whoever is in government needs to be tackling these big questions. The times we live in require leaders who encourage exploration of these issues. We need to be finding ways we can adapt to these realities and still have a good lifestyle. As a society we will have to modify our behaviour, find solutions and make changes. The party we choose to vote for must have the insight to at least be facing up to these circumstances, now before it is too late. 

Anyway that's my thinking. I think I'll be voting for the Labour party, even though they seem a bit at a loss at the moment. We are also having a referendum about our voting system.  I like our current "Mixed Member Proportional" electoral system. I think it is fair, more truly representative of the will of the people, and allows the voice of the smaller parties to be heard. These often bring a more careful consideration of issues and some modifying of more rigid perspectives. 

That's my thoughts tonight. Tomorrow is my day off!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Busyness and "missionaries"

Blood bank appointment.
On Thursday morning I had an 8:10 a.m. appointment with the blood bank. (My 20th donation they informed me) I arrived and went through the normal checks. As I settled into the couch/bed thingy (they would be great to have at home) the nurse proceeded to stick the needle in and get my blood flowing to a plastic bag that rocks away beside the bed. Making small talk the nurse asked if I had a big day ahead of me. I hesitated, then said "Yes, till about 9 tonight."  Then came the inevitable question I often hate, "What do you do?"  'Here comes the end to the conversation' I thought. As soon as you say, "I am a church minister" people often stop talking. I said that then went on to explain that I do workplace chaplaincy as well. This conversation did continue for a while and was quite pleasant. As I sat there with my blood flowing out of me thinking about my day ahead it dawned on me that I do work long hours. That day I had two chaplaincies to visit, a New Immigrants' tour to help host, preparation to do and a meeting to attend. As it turned out my carefully planned timetable was interrupted by a visit to a man and his sister whose 101 year old mum is nearing the end of her life.
Busy but OK about it
I decided as I sat there doing some mental arithmetic that I "work" around 60 hours a week. I do find these days that I tend to have "flat" days every now and then when my work is slow because I am a bit burned out.  The next day, however, I hit my straps again so I accept this cycle. My "work" is interesting in that I go from being a minister in Church to a chaplain "out there." I pass from being a thoughtful reader and contemplative to an active conversationalist. My job can involve doing administration to practical furniture moving, venue preparing activity. I tend to have each day loaded with things to do so I am moving from one to the other with a sense of adventure. Lunch times are also work. Often because it involves conversation it does not feel like work. I will say sometimes, "I better go do some work." and the people I am talking to in Space2B or chaplaincy will remind me, "You are working! This is your work!" I still look forward to retirement though, I guess long to be free of constantly having stuff to do over my head.
Youth with a Mission
I arrived at the drop-in centre after a busy Friday. My wife informed me that three of the guests at the Drop-in that night were to be young people from Youth with a Mission. A part of their training, apparently is to hit the road with little in their pocket and visit places. These three, two young women and a guy, had hitched rides from Ashburton and arrived in town and had found out that we ran a Friday night drop-in centre.  "Everybody knows this church" they said about their detective work around town. They had no accommodation planned, it is all part of "having faith". They were all from overseas and I found out, in the little conversation we managed, they were attractive nice people to talk with.  We fed them alongside the others at the drop-in, (telling them that we do not preach at people) they mixed constructively with people and even did some dishes.(A big plus in my book) I lined up some accommodation at the night shelter and dropped them there. Perhaps I should have been more christian and had them at our home?  I am just not sure about the process? We could have used them better if we knew they were coming? Does God want us to bludge off others in the way they are doing?   Perhaps I am bludging off others? After-all people donate to pay me. Anyway I got them two nights' accommodation. It does make you think though. Here were keen Christian young people, I wonder, how did they perceive what we were doing at the drop-in centre?  Maybe I'll ask them if I see them again.  As we showed them to their room at the Night Shelter, the naughty side of me felt jealous. What a great life this young guy from Finland had - swanning around the country with two gorgeous young women!  I think I'll join Youth With A Mission!  :-)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Me at a summit?

I went to this resilience summit the other day. This was the one where the invitation involved flattery. You may well ask what on earth do you mean by "resilience"?
The situation
There was quite a lot of reading in preparation for this summit and it all seemed bad news. There seemed to be a whole lot of things happening which meant that our lifestyle is under threat. The rise in the world population and the need for this greater population to be drawing on the resources of the world. There is also the reality that oil is fast running out. It is becoming more and more difficult to get. Once it would cost the equivalent of one barrel of oil to get fifty barrels of oil. These days the average is something like 1:17 and in the sands of Canada 1:4.  Some suggest that "peak oil" has been reached and oil production is all down hill from here. The best estimates are that there is about thirty years left of oil resources. Whatever happens, oil prices will keep rising dramatically, this  will cause economic recession, tensions and difficulties in all sorts of areas. To give an example. Much of the food we in NZ buy in the supermarkets is imported. (This is silly and more a matter of taste because NZ surely can grow enough to feed itself?) But when oil gets expensive this food becomes even more expensive or more difficult to get. When the February Christchurch earthquake happened Dunedin ran out of bread! This was because bread production had largely been centralised in Christchurch.  Oil prices would make such a plan costly and unsustainable.  The third lot of bad news surrounds climate change. It is, to my mind, unquestionably true that we humans are contributing to the factors that lead to global warming and climate change. The news is all bad with dire predictions for the years ahead.  The papers presented gave indications about what parts of Dunedin would be severely affected by sea level rise. It gave good and bad news about the implications of climate change with an increased risk of flooding. These are just the main indicators that our current lifestyle is overloading our planet and its systems.  There are changes that need to happen.
"Resilience" in this context means the ability to adapt to the new situation and respond creatively, enabling a good lifestyle to continue. This summit drew together a bunch of people in our city so that we can make some sort of report to the local city council with ideas about how our city can best respond and adapt to the circumstances facing us. We heard three speakers and then split up into groups where we discussed such topics as energy, food supply, rising sea level impacts, climate change challenges and transport. They invited a total of one hundred citizens they thought worth inviting and I was, for some reason, one of them. I was told that I would be the only clergy type person there, which was a sad reflection on where people felt the religious community was at.
Admiration and jealousy
As I listened to speakers, I was particularly impressed with two of them. One lady in fifteen minutes gave a great summary of the situations we face. I wished I had a copy of her slides and speech. It was concise but full of hard hitting facts.  The other impressive speech was given by a third year law student who talked from a young persons point of view. He spoke passionately about how the older generation (me and younger) were really loading problems, debt and issues on generations yet to come. An example he gave was actions that led to the extinction of species, which future generations may not get to see. The price of our inaction on climate change will be carried by younger and future generations. He spoke well and made sense. When we broke up into groups I was impressed by the articulate thinkers in my group. I enjoyed the way they discussed things and the speed with which they heard and responded to one another. I just listened for a long time then began to raise questions. I always admire quick and articulate minds, but at the same time there is a little jealousy. I think of things but only as I am walking back to the office or lying in bed stewing on my day.
World view/values issues
This whole subject raises questions about our whole world view and understanding about life. We see progress as "growth". The political parties are campaigning in NZ and the main issues are the economy and growth. People are "successful" if they make money, have a big house and car and consume more. But the issues facing our world tell us the world cannot sustain such a world view and these values any longer. To change our impact we have to begin to rethink our values. We need to re-evaluate our values and what we see as what makes life "good".  Many of the suggestions we threw around were good but were in essence just band-aids. Some how a new way of understanding life needs to be explored.
Where do I fit in?
On this whole area of resilience and sustainability I have been a quiet supporter. Ever since I read the book "Enough is enough" by John V Taylor away back in the 70's I have dabbled in a more sustainable, simpler lifestyle. More recently I have used the resources of the church building to support sustainability courses and efforts in Dunedin. I have not been involved myself, so much as helping support other's work. This Summit experience is making me think that maybe this is a cause I should get off my bum about and put some action into. Maybe I should join Sustainability Dunedin and help them along with my time and talents. Anyway I enjoyed talking with the people and found an affinity with them. I was energised and inspired. "The sacred" is in this movement, even though religious people have not caught up on where he is. Watch this space!

Monday, November 7, 2011

My wife was wrong...

Just a few photos from my evening bike ride.

I rode down the boat harbour wall to watch Kayakers. Dunedin's new stadium is in the background.

Some guys working late doing a new sign on the exterior of the stadium.  Rather them than me in that cage up so high. I saw them there early in the day too.

This road has been blocked for a while but I think people were moving the barriers to suit. The lumps of concrete have been added. I REALLY don't think they want the road used.

I often write about "my" Mount Cargill. Here it is from down at the CBD level. It is  on the northern outskirts of Dunedin. It is the lump with the radio tower on it. The second lump to the right is Butters Peak.

I had a good day off today. We went up town for morning tea and did some shopping. I bought a hard drive and a fancy new multifunction power tool. In the afternoon I did some gardening and in the evening went for a bike ride. This is where my wife was wrong. (It happens from time to time ... I don't always tell her when she is wrong.) She said that there was no wind. It is often very calm where we are. Because of this when I was contemplating what I would do for exercise she suggested that I go for a bike ride. I got on my bike but when I got out onto the harbour road I discovered I had a stiff tail wind which meant a head wind on the way home. I usually don't enjoy pushing into a wind on the return journey when you are already tired, but tonight I did enjoy getting out on my bike. Because I filled my day up with shopping, digging and biking I have not thought much about work, it has been a good switched off day. I had a phone call around lunch hour which I had to respond to and as part of that the lady wanted me to name a time when she and I could get together this week. I said I would email her my diary. I got to thinking about the week ahead. I am going to struggle to find time to fit her in! I thought my week was easier this week? I'll have to rob Peter to pay Paul again. I looked for an evening when I could do some more digging or climb my mountain. I discovered I am out for four of the next five nights. It is a full on life I lead. We have had three phone calls today from people booking in for our Christmas day community dinner. We also had one from a person wanting to volunteer. The silly season has started for us, but I will enjoy it. It will be our 23rd Community Christmas Day Dinner.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday night again.

Sunday afternoon walk.
I went up "my" Mount Cargill from Bethunes Gully, the longest track. As I was headed up I encountered a lot of women trampers of all ages coming down. One I did not recognise at first said a warm "Hello". She was a woman from one of my chaplaincies and stopped to talk awhile. I asked why all these women and she told me it was a tramping group. They had started at 8 a.m. and done three peaks.... Flagstaff, across to Swampy summit and then over to Mount Cargill. I said I was so jealous, what a great way to spend the day. I told her I loved to walk up Mount Cargill. She enthusiastically replied, "You should join a tramping club!" I said ruefully, "Maybe when I retire." I know that with my schedule I could not be part of a club just now. I have explored running clubs, cycling clubs and tramping clubs but as a minister I cannot really participate in any of these. Sundays are often their main day for activity and I am too busy during the week to be involved. I wonder if I will regret the job I am in later in life?
  I took the video because I wanted to communicate the sounds I enjoy on the walk. I like the sound of the little waterfalls. I also love the evening birdsong though its not in the video.
I conducted a wedding ceremony on Saturday. The bride was a lady in her forties who I had met on Habitat for Humanity sites and who had been part of committees I was on. She is a very nice lady and we were thrilled when she developed this friendship with a nice guy, that evolved into them getting engaged. They asked if I would take the wedding and if they could have it in our Church, with refreshments to follow. There were to be only a few people there. I woke on Saturday morning with a dusting of snow on our cars and went in to town to meet the couple at the church. Together with her mum we set up tables and coffee machines and food. I went off to the office to finish the preparations for the wedding and the bride and groom went to different rooms to change out of their jeans. We all appeared all polished up and we had a brief but meaningful wedding ceremony. They had asked me if I would be happy for an elderly (86yrs) woman who is in their church cell group to pray for them. They asked her just before the ceremony and on cue she rose in beautiful fashion, held each of the couples hands and led in a beautiful heartfelt prayer of support for the couple. We then shared in sandwiches, dessert and cake together in the Church Friendship room. It was a sensible, meaningful and warm intimate wedding. A privilege to be a part of it.
I have said this before... I am lucky to be involved with people. I went to one chaplaincy on Wednesday and for a short time on Thursday. I was warmly greeted and chatted with people there. With one young man I worked out that I had taken the wedding of his girlfriends parents. He was quite intrigued as we talked about the family. I called at the brewery on Thursday also. In some ways it was not an official visit, because it was not my week, but I talked with about four people and we talked like old friends easily dropping into significant conversation. It was as I was walking back from the brewery that I felt privileged to have the job I have.  On Friday I visited fire stations. Of course I gave cheek and received good natured abuse but again I was warmly received. One man followed me out to the car and expressed appreciation sincerely and warmly for how I had led his dad's funeral. During the week I rang another man from a chaplaincy whose wife was in hospital. We talked briefly about her condition then he thanked me for touching base and said he would be in touch if he needed me, but mean time he will "abuse me as usual". We laughed and said our goodbyes. I get to be friends with a lot of people, it is special and I should appreciate it more.

Snow at low levels on Saturday morning in November!

Jason and Raewyn after their wedding with their friend Barbara who led the prayer of support.

A bridge on my Mt Cargill walk.

The path when you return to Bethunes Gully. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Welcome back sleepless nights.

I have been on holiday for a week. We arrived home yesterday morning, I dropped off my luggage and raced into the office. I went home from work sometime after 8 p.m. after an Elders' Board meeting and then did some reading for Sunday's service. I went to bed with my traditional cup of Horlicks and dropped off to sleep easily. At around 1:30  I was wide awake for a toilet visit, then lay there stewing on my week ahead. "How do I fit all the stuff in? "  - "How am I going to handle that sleazy man I have to confront?" - "What will I preach on this week - follow the epistle lectionary and preach on 'death' or do a service thinking about questions to ask when voting?" - "What am I going to say at the wedding on Sunday? When am I going to prepare for the wedding? Stink! I said I would attend a professional development day on Friday? I'll have to remember to cancel my usual Friday morning coffee with a friend!" - "Will I keep on at the chaplaincy I want to drop till Christmas? How is the Church going to afford me when I drop it? How am I going to fit the hours in this week?" - "When can I fit in going back to see my brother-in-law? When will I get back into the garden?"  "I need to get into Christmas day dinner plans!" - "What is going to happen at the church in two years when I retire? Perhaps I'll hang around and support them? No I don't want to continue this stress, distortion and compromise!  But then I'll be seen as a quitter and not practicing what I preach?...." ... so it went on... I was still awake at 5 a.m. ... During my week off I had slept soundly  (except in strange beds there were times I missed the comfort of "my" pillows and "my" water bed.) ... Welcome back to the real world. Landed with a thud! Now I can't settle, our old dog Max is at the vet for xray and blood tests. Apparently the vet said, "He is old for a dog of his type?" I will miss him if this is the end. ... not going to have any more pets! Settle Dave... you have work to do! Roll on retirement!